Ever since Livy proclaimed that ‘freedom is to be in one’s own power’, if not from long before and in other contexts, the relationship between freedom and power has been an enduring concern of social and political theorists. It has withstood even Isaiah Berlin’s sharp distinction between seemingly irreconcilable forms of freedom and much of the subsequent theoretical and philosophical debates that it spawned. The history of political thought is littered with thinkers who have opposed freedom and power, arguing that liberty can only be truly attained free from power and domination (republicans) or in the absence of external impediments imposed by other human beings (liberals); but there are also many examples of arguments that identify a close and intriguing link between them, especially in the sphere of politics, that emanate from radicals and conservatives alike, thinkers such as Machiavelli, Montaigne, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Arendt and Foucault. Moreover, those in the former camp tend to think of freedom in formal and abstract terms, while proponents of the latter eschew this now normal tendency in political philosophy and instead think of freedom in fully substantive, concrete and even materialist terms. Hobbes is an unusual and unique figure as his account of freedom inspires members of both parties, that is those concerned with the formal character of freedom and those troubled by its more substantive components and conditions, which is why it is only right that we start this special issue on freedom and power with an analysis of Hobbes’ account of freedom.
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